Meet Gary and Larry McNeff, the masterminds behind Mac Brothers Gourmet Foods. In the 1930s, their mother’s father, E. W. Stevinson, owned a restaurant in Kansas City, Kansas. Every day, grandpa would make a batch of his favorite barbecue sauce, and every day, he would sell out of it. As Gary says, “In Kansas City, barbecue is king, so if you can sell out daily, you know you have a thing.” The recipe for that sauce was handed down to the McNeff brothers, the third generation to grow up eating what they now call “Grandpa’s Best Sweet and Mild.”
When their mother, who worked for J.C. Penney, was transferred to the Manchester warehouse, the family moved to Connecticut. But barbecue remained in their blood, instilled in them not only by Grandpa Stevinson but also by their parents, who owned a catering business which featured barbecue, Grandpa’s original sauce, and a couple of riffs off of the original that their father created over the years. Gary gives an anecdote about how cooking has always been a part of their lives, reminiscing about the time his mother broke her arm in a car accident, saying, “I was eight years old, cutting up whole chickens for her.” Although the business closed after their father became ill, the brothers’ passion and talent for cooking remained.
Flash forward to when Gary was working in insurance. During the holidays, there was an employee craft fair which lasted a week. Since his colleagues used to beg him to bring in his famous barbecue sauce, Gary made a batch and sold it in mason jars at the fair. He thought the jars would last the week, but he sold out in one day. He ended up coming home each night to jar some more, and sold out each day. He says, “We always knew people liked our sauce but that really drove home how much people liked it.”
Thus, four years ago, when they were living in Enfield with their families, the brothers decided to go into the barbecue sauce business. Gary’s wife, Gina Juliano and Larry’s wife Peggy McNeff, also help with the business, which is named in part for the brothers’ Irish last name and in part after their paternal grandfather whose nickname was “Mac.”
Their flair for cooking and innate ability to blend seasonings to create nuanced flavors has led to the current Mac Brothers line of eight barbecue sauces (including the original), two mustards and a hot sauce. Most of their sauces are Kansas City style; two of these, “Warm and Smoky” and “Really Freakin’ Hot”, are based off the original sauce. But they do make a North Carolina style sauce as well, which is more vinegar-based, and is great for making pulled pork. Their hot sauce, dubbed “Too Hot for Grandma” is unique in that it is apple based. With any of their spicy products, the brothers focus on flavor, not just heat, as Larry says, “So you still know what you’re eating.”
Considering that barbecue is incomplete without a good rub, the brothers have concocted six different spice rub blends to date. They have mild and spicy versions of rubs for pork and poultry, the same for beef, one for seafood, and a delightful all-purpose seasoning that is both sweet and salty. They have named it “Really Freakin’ Good,” and having tried it, this writer thinks is it aptly named.
The Mac Brothers develop new products based on suggestions from friends, family members and customers. When Larry “caught” his son using a store-bought sauce because it had chipotle flavor, he decided to develop one for Mac Brothers. He says, using his knowledge of what makes a good sauce, he sat down and wrote a recipe including ingredients he thought would blend well together. Then he made it, and the family taste-tested it, and as he says, “I got lucky. It came out just right.” That is how their “Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce” came to be, and it comes in both a mild and spicy version.
They also develop products based on their own tastes. For example, Larry doesn’t like horseradish, so he created a spicy mustard that doesn’t use it. And, after discovering black garlic at a garlic festival, they decided to learn how to make it and are currently selling that as well. They buy garlic from local farmers as much as possible, and they slow-roast it for forty-four days following the traditional method created in South Korea. The end result is a roasted bulb filled with black garlic cloves that are spreadable and possess a sweet and savory, tangy and rich flavor that has come to be known as “umami.” It also contains twice the antioxidants of regular, raw garlic.
If there’s one thing the Mac Brothers want to stress about their products, it’s that they are not just for summer, or for dinner, or for barbecue for that matter. The brothers use their own products in many different recipes, some of which can be found on the Mac Brothers Gourmet Foods website, and others on Gary’s food blog, “A Real Dad Makes Real Food”
(arealdadmakesrealfood.blogspot.com). They’ve even made a salad dressing using their “Carolina Sweet BBQ Sauce.” You can find their recipe for baked beans on the Go Eat page of this
The brothers say that if they can get a person to try their products, they have a nearly 80% buy rate on that initial taste. One couple of loyal customers, James and Sandra Shick, buy Mac Brothers sauces by the case, using them in a variety of recipes all year. James says, “We’ve tried just about everything they’ve made. Their products are phenomenal. Their sauces and spices have so much flavor to them!” Adds Sandra, “The only thing missing from their products is that they don’t come with a chef!”
Mac Brothers Gourmet Foods products are sold at several area farmers’ markets including South Windsor and Coventry, and at food expos and other festivals. Their vending schedule, as well as other information and recipes, can be found on their Facebook page. Their products can also be purchased online with free shipping on orders over $40 within the continental U.S.
macbrothersgourmetfoods.com • (860) 986-1145